We have not seen the sun here in Chicago for 10 or 12 days. It’s getting old. Really old.
It hasn’t been “Chicago cold” (sub-zero or at most in the teens) and there is no snow. And while I certainly don’t bemoan the absence of cold and snow, they at least provide a little drama. This is just bleak, damp, often rainy, and gray. Very, very gray.
What have I been up to, besides complaining?
Last week one of my oldest friends, one I never get to see enough of, suggested we meet in Elmhurst (another Chicago suburb) to check out exhibits at the local art museum and historical society. What a great day she planned for us!
The art museum is connected to the Mies van der Rohe McCormick House (one of only three houses that he built in the United States) which it acquired some time ago. The pairing of the house with the museum reflects the museum’s philosophy that “people from all walks of life and professions can learn how to see and to think differently through the study of art, architecture and design.”
The exhibit we saw is called “Sense of Place,” and it’s designed to consider the various ways we “map the places of our lives.” It also celebrates the museum’s 20th anniversary by recognizing its founding artists. I have to say, Laura and I were both (a) impressed by the museum and (b) taken aback by the opening gallery in this exhibit, a residential room, completely washed in white paint — chairs, sofa, tables, lamps, books. And it invited visitors to leave their mark, so to speak, using available crayons or colored pencils, to doodle, scribble, whatever. (Mine is at the start of this post.)
Since the exhibition opened in December, it was already heavily doodled. In fact, finding a blank space for our own doodles was tricky. And I honestly don’t know which I found more unnerving, the totally white background or the scribbles everywhere. What do you think? (This was called Welcome Home Coloring Book, by Donna Castellanos, mixed media, colored pencils, salvaged furnishings.) I think initially at least Laura and I both started channeling our mother/grandmother selves, “you wrote on what?”
The exhibit as a whole (it included 39 artists, some with more than one work) offered a genuinely diverse view of “Sense of Place,” everything from video to collage to oil on canvas. (And this is where I wish I’d taken more photos, but I just got caught up in looking! And I have to apologize for what I do have here, it’s pretty paltry.)
We both loved this oil on canvas, Best Medicine, by Cassandra Swierenga. Did we like it because it was a familiar medium, great color, a happy, loving moment between a mother and three daughters? Probably all of the above. It seems reminiscent of a time and place you have experienced and hope to again.
After the art museum, we stopped for lunch at a wonderful restaurant, then walked over to the Elmhurst History Museum to acquaint ourselves with Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961), one of the country’s first female architects and a central figure in the Prairie School of Architecture. It’s impossible to overlook the impact of architecture on Chicago, particularly the Prairie School and Frank Lloyd Wright, but Marion Mahony Griffon was a revelation to us.
Marion Mahony was Wright’s first employee and a key member of his Oak Park Studio for 15 years, but her work, as well as that of others in the studio was downplayed by Wright. Interestingly, her senior project at MIT was the design for this home and studio. If you visit the Wright home and studio in Oak Park, built somewhat later, it’s impossible to ignore the similarities.
Architectural historians believe that Mahony’s distinctively-styled renderings, which share many similarities with Japanese woodblock prints, contributed significantly to the Prairie School style of architecture, landscape and design.
According to Wikipedia, when Wright left his first wife and fled to Europe with his second in 1909, he offered the Studio’s commissions to Mahony. Although she declined, she was subsequently hired by Hermann V. von Holst, who had accepted the work. In this capacity, she retained design control and was the architect for a number of commissions Wright had abandoned. She eventually partnered with Walter Burley Griffin on a number of projects. Mahony and Griffin married in 191l, eventually taking their prairie style to projects in India and Australia. After Griffin’s death in 1937, she completed their unfinished commissions but did little more to further her own career.
In so many ways, it seems, Marion Mahony Griffin’s talent was co-opted by the men around her. And that’s a familiar story. I’m so glad we “discovered” her!
See you next time!